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Zika virus: What are the chances I'll get it?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Zika - Do You Have It?

Most likely you have not heard of the Zika virus prior to this year. Now, fast-forward to 2016, everyone is talking about the ZIka virus epidemic. The rapid spread of the virus has brought fear and uncertainty to many, especially if you are pregnant.

The following most urgent questions will be answered in this article about the Zika virus:

I am not pregnant, should I be worried about Zika?

Both “yes": and “no” are the correct answer, let me explain. Eighty percent of people with the virus never have symptoms. If you do have symptoms they are similar to a mild flu-like illness.

The most common symptoms include fever and rash. Also associated with the viral illness are muscle and joint aches and pains, headaches, eye pain and itchy red eyes. These symptoms can last between two and seven days.

Unfortunately, it is the complications related to Zika that causes concern in a non-pregnant woman. One such significant complication is a serious illness called Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by viral infections, such as the Zika Viral infection. This autoimmune disease destroys the lining of nerve cells, giving rise to muscle weakness and paralysis. The weakness results in 66% of afflicted individuals not being able to walk and 25% having difficulty breathing.

So the answer is both, “yes” and “no”. No, you should not worry, because in the majority of the non-pregnant population it is not harmful. But, yes it is troubling in the non-pregnant population do to its association with Guillain-Barre syndrome.

I am Pregnant, should I be worried about Zika?

I am pregnant should I be concerned about the Zika virus

"Yes", you should be worried. Even though symptoms are minimal, the pregnancy related complications for your newborn baby are alarming. The current newborn associated physical complications include, microcephaly, brain malformations, severe eye problems, and impaired hearing. Your non-newborn baby worries include a mild flu like syndrome and a serious autoimmune disease the Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The CDC has noted a link between Zika virus and microcephaly has become evident. Microcephaly is a birth defect characterized by an abnormal small head and a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development.

Since the recent Zika outbreaks, 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly. Officials report, in these areas, one out of 100 newborn babies are born with microcephaly.

Zika experts are concerned that microcephaly may be just the tip of the iceberg. They believe that many more congenital anomalies are going to be found.

In the February 09, 2016 issue of the journal JAMA Ophthalmology provides strong evidence that the mosquito-borne virus can cause vision problems. The ophthalmic journal concluded, “A congenital infection due to Zika virus exposure is associated with vision-threatening findings that include retina and optic nerve damage”.

Another new complication has been established between the Zika virus and microcephaly. Experts believe newborn babies born with microcephaly also have impaired hearing. Yale University epidemiologist expert Albert Ko has identified the potential relationship.

Pregnant or not the CDC officials have said there is a link between Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Guilain-Barre syndrome leads to nerve damage causing weakness and even paralysis. This rare condition has been identified in several South American countries since the Zika Outbreak.

If you are pregnant and been exposed to the ZIka virus you should be concerned. Tell your healthcare provider that you may have Zika. Your physician can do a blood test for the detection of the disease. They can also do an ultrasound and/or amniocentesis testing to see if your baby has it, too.

What are the chances I’ll get the Zika Virus?

It is important to realize that mosquitoes spread the overwhelming majority of reported Zika infections. The mosquito responsible for spreading Zika is an aggressive mosquito, called Aedes aegyti. It will bite multiple persons to acquire one blood meal, thus resulting in an overwhelming rapid spread of the virus.

The “Aedes aegyti” mosquito is now predominantly found in Central and South America. If you live in an area that does not have the infected mosquitoes you’re very unlikely to acquire the disease.

The first case of Zika being transmitted sexually was on Februrary 2, 2016. If your partner has returned from an outbreak area you should abstain from sexual intercourse or use a condom for the duration of your pregnancy.

It is now known that the virus can be found in blood, breast milk, saliva and urine. But, no cases have been confirmed of the virus being transmitted through these bodily fluids other than blood.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has said, “There have been a few known cases of viral spread by blood transfusions and now sexual contact. The virus can be found in blood up to a week after exposure. How long the virus remains in semen is not known at this time.”

Since the vast majority of Zika cases are going to be spread from mosquitoes, you should not have to worry. But, you will have to be up-to-date on the geographic spread of the virus and avoid individuals returning form outbreak areas.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

I am pregnant what are the symptoms of the Zika virus

Most people, pregnant or not, have no symptoms with a ZIka infection. In fact, one in five people infected actually have symptoms. The most common infections include a fever, rash, headache, joint and muscle pain, and red itchy eyes. If you do have symptoms they are mild flu-like symptoms that resolve in two to seven days.

But, in general aside from these mild symptoms there are no lasting or long-term residual effects from the Zika infection. The initial infection will protect you from future infections, related by the CDC.

I have been exposed to Zika what should I do?

If you have been exposed to the Zika virus, what you should do depends on if you are pregnant, thinking about getting pregnant or a man who is planning sex with a pregnant partner.

If none of the above situations apply to you then you have no need to be tested. Remember that only 20% of the people infected will actually develop symptoms. If you do have symptoms they are mild and short lived.

If any of the above situations apply to you, you should have your healthcare provider test for the Zika virus. A blood test is the only way to definitely confirm the viral infection.

How can I be treated if I have the Zika virus?

Unfortunately there is no treatment for a Zika infection. We currently do not have any specific medicines to treat Zika. Researchers are working on a vaccine, but it is years from being available. If you are having bothersome symptoms the CDC recommends the following treatment options.

Get rest and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for your fever, aches and headaches.

Do not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to treat the symptoms. These medications can cause bleeding if you have an infection that mimics Zika symptoms, called dengue fever. Also, never give aspirin containing medications to children less than 18 years, it can cause a serous complication called Reye syndrome.

How can I keep myself safe?

Since there is not a vaccine to protect you from the Zika virus you will have to avoid exposure. Do not travel to areas with an active outbreak. If you do find yourself in an area with Zika virus mosquitoes the CDC advises you to use EPA-approved mosquito repellent over sunscreen, protective clothing that can block a mosquito bite and sleep in a screened area.

If you have been infected with the Zika virus you can help others by avoiding mosquito bites during the first week of your illness. The Zika mosquito bites during the daytime, not like other mosquitoes that bite at dusk. The mosquito likes to bite when indoors opposed to outdoors. So, make sure to keep your windows and doors covered with mosquito netting screens.


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